Bilingual Buzz: the ELA department
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Bilingual Buzz: the ELA department

In this article, Anne Flynn our ELA teacher (re)-introduces 3 important ‘buzz’ terms in the ELA department which were recently discussed at a primary Expert Parent Language session: home language, translanguaging and multilingualism.

By Anne Flynn, English Language Acquisition specialist

Each academic year, the English Language Acquisition (ELA) department joins the classroom teachers and Dutch department to present an ‘Expert Session’ for parents who are interested in a closer look at how language works at ISUtrecht. This year, in the ELA session we discussed the ways in which we incorporate ELA in the classroom setting. We focused on three ‘buzz’ areas: home language, translanguaging and multilingualism.


One amazing aspect of our ISUtrecht community is the way we embrace multilingualism. By definition, multilingualism is the use of more than one language. So what about a child who speaks English at home to their family? Well, in all cases these children are learning Dutch and/or Spanish (in the upper grades) in school and this forms what is often known in the field as ‘Manufactured Multilingualism’ and develops the linguistic repertoire of those children. We also have many students at our school who are exposed to 3 or 4 languages in their household. No matter where a student falls on this multilingual spectrum, it is our goal to celebrate, maintain and develop their knowledge of the languages around them. We use a variety of strategies, such as ‘language as concept’ and ‘inquiry into multilingual unit vocabulary’. Unit vocabulary is often put on display in different languages to place our classroom languages in the spotlight.


Another ELA buzz term is ‘translanguaging’ or the use of multiple languages together to access the curriculum through our strongest language while still working towards meeting the criteria of output in the instructional language. When the ELA teacher works in the classroom or with specific ELA students outside the classroom, we often use the strategy of translanguaging as a way to engage all the students regardless of their previous exposure to English. For example, if a class is starting a new unit, an effective way of introducing vocabulary is to have the students create ‘translanguage’ flashcards (see picture). They do this by putting the English word along with the word in their home language. By using their prior knowledge to help them connect with the new information we have built a bridge to understanding new terminology.

Home Language

The third ELA term we discussed during our parent session was what we refer to as ‘Home Language’. During recent years, linguistics has discussed the problematic nature of the term ‘Mother Tongue’ as it is regarded as exclusive and disregarding the languages of other family members. When we say home language we may, in fact, be talking about multiple home languages. Each ISUtrecht family is unique and therefore each home has their own multilingual repertoire. One family may speak Turkish at the dinner table, but French with one set of grandparents and Dutch with their neighbours, these are all home languages. The ELA department strives to help the maintenance of all of these languages because each home language is an invaluable means of communication. Obviously, the time required to maintain multiple home languages is significant and cannot be accomplished during instruction time at school. Therefore, the ELA Department continues to work towards its goal of closer parent partnerships with the school families to help everyone develop all home languages and therefore the complete linguistic repertoire of our community.


We have created padlet document where each of the ELA teachers jotted down their ideas of fun ways to practise and maintain home languages. We also asked the parents at our online session to contribute ideas of their own to the Padlet. We are including the link below so each and every ISUtrecht family can take advantage of these ideas. The ELA Department would love to see your additions to the Padlet as you take a close look at your families’ unique linguistic repertoire and celebrate it!